Even though cannabis slows the movement of the digestive system, research suggests cannabis is still an effective treatment for constipation.

Cannabis, also referred to as “marijuana,” is a product derived from the cannabis sativa plant. It’s a cannabinoid, which means it’s a substance that can activate the cannabinoid receptors in your body — including those in your gut.

While many people use cannabis recreationally, the medical uses for it are growing. Emerging research has shown that cannabis can help treat asthma and an eye condition called glaucoma. It also has properties that act as an:

  • antispasmodic, a type of medication that help reduce muscle spasms through the central nervous system
  • appetite stimulant, a type of medication that can increase appetite

In addition to these areas, there may be some therapeutic use for cannabis in constipation, even though cannabis use slows down movement through much of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

Cannabis vs. marijuana

We use the term “cannabis” instead of “marijuana.”

We avoid the word “marijuana” because it has racist roots and connotations. The word “marijuana” first became popular in the United States during the cannabis prohibition movement, as it appealed to the widespread xenophobia against Mexican immigrants at the time.

Was this helpful?

Cannabis is known to slow gastric motility, the speed at which food passes through the GI system and out of the body.

Slow gastric motility can be a cause of infrequent, difficult-to-pass stool. So at first glance, it would make sense to assume cannabis causes constipation.

That’s not necessarily true, however.

A 2019 study found people who recently used cannabis had a 30% decreased chance of experiencing constipation compared to people who never used cannabis or were past users.

Why cannabis may be beneficial in constipation remains a mystery. The study’s authors suggest that several theories exist to explain the paradoxical findings involving lesser-known agents in cannabis.

For example, less-known and less-studied active ingredients in cannabis may improve movement through the colon. This can negate or modify the anti-motility effects of well-studied cannabinoid agents like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

It’s also possible that hundreds of other active ingredients and cannabinoids in cannabis may have pro-motility effects on non-cannabinoid receptors that have yet to be discovered.

Despite these findings, cannabis isn’t considered a first-line treatment approach for constipation. It remains an area of current research, with benefits and drawbacks for digestive health.

Among many other actions, cannabis can provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory responses in the digestive tract.

Medically, cannabis has been used to help certain GI conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. It’s also sometimes used to relieve diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.

Long-term (prolonged) cannabis use can have negative impacts on your digestive health.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is another paradoxical GI condition related to cannabis. It’s characterized by episodes of severe vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain after cannabis use — the very symptoms it’s sometimes used to treat.

CHS is a rare condition. According to researchers, chronic overstimulation of your cannabinoid receptors can cause CHS. This disrupts the body’s ability to regulate nausea and vomiting.

Cannabis for gut health — or not?

The verdict is still out on whether cannabis is good or bad for your gut.

According to a 2017 review, literature seems to support the use of cannabis for treatment of certain digestive disorders, even though clinical efficacy is unclear.

A 2016 review cautions that more research into cannabis is necessary when it comes to GI health. Some evidence suggests that cannabis may only be masking the symptoms of active disease processes rather than healing them.

Was this helpful?

Cannabis activates the cannabinoid receptors in your gut. These receptors, part of your body’s endocannabinoid system, affect various physiological functions.

Research indicates cannabis can:

Cannabis may not be a first-line choice for treating constipation, but you can find relief through less controversial methods.

Options that may help relieve constipation include:

  • increasing your dietary fiber and water intake
  • getting regular physical activity
  • trying to have a bowel movement at the same time every day
  • using over-the-counter products like stool softeners, laxatives, enemas, or fiber supplements
  • probiotics
  • holistic approaches, like massage

If you can’t manage constipation using home treatments, your doctor can prescribe medications. Changing the medications you’re currently taking that contribute to constipation might also be necessary.

Surgery and biofeedback therapy, which helps retrain the muscles that control bowel movements, are also options for severe forms of constipation.

The relationship between cannabis and constipation is contradictory (paradoxical). Generally speaking, cannabis use slows down the speed at which food passes through your body. This can contribute to constipation.

Despite this, research suggests that cannabis lowers the chances of experiencing constipation. This phenomenon may be due to undiscovered mechanisms in the endocannabinoid system that change the known effects of cannabinoids like THC.